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Official Review by Brian Wilmer, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
South Carolina's capital city has quite a bit of baseball history. Professional baseball saw its first pitch in Columbia in 1892. Numerous affiliated teams called the city home off-and-on until the conclusion of World War II. Construction on Capital City Stadium was completed in 1945, with the Columbia Reds becoming the first resident in 1946. The Reds fielded a series of great players, including Ted Kluszewski, Joe Adcock, and Frank Robinson, before leaving in 1961. The Columbia Mets took up residence in 1983, eventually becoming the Capital City Bombers in 1993 and changing affiliations to the Boston Red Sox in 2004. That team eventually became the Greenville Drive when they relocated to the then-new Fluor Field. Jose Reyes and David Wright were among those who played for the Bombers franchise.
Unfortunately, a large part of Columbia's baseball history is about to become history. The city has sold the site on which Capital City Stadium rests, with the possibility of retail or other developments becoming the new tenant in short order. The Blowfish franchise in the Coastal Plain League appears to be safe as far as keeping its team alive; however, the team's new home will likely be elsewhere in the Midlands region of South Carolina. As a date for the last pitch at “The Cap” and a new home for the Blowfish are still awaiting finalization, downtown Columbia still gets to maintain its baseball legacy.
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There are no real "gastronomic wonders" at Capital City Stadium, but what can be found is reasonably-priced and available at several points of sale. The team offers most of the so-called classics, including hot dogs ($3, $4 with chili and cheese), hamburgers ($5), nachos ($3, $4 with chili), pizza ($3 a slice), and pretzels ($3). There is also a grill just down from the main point of sale on the third base side that sells the aforementioned hot dogs and burgers, along with a "big dog" ($6), Italian sausage dog ($5), and a Philly cheesesteak ($5). This location serves Budweiser, Bud Light, and Michelob Ultra for $3 for a 16-ounce draft, $4 for a 16-ounce aluminum bottle, and $10 for a pitcher, along with bottled sodas, Gatorade, and water for $3. Fountain sodas are available at the main concession stands for $3.
Snacks and desserts are also available. Sunflower seeds, Cracker Jacks, popcorn, candy, and frozen desserts are $2. Roasted peanuts are $3, as are a pint of one of South Carolina's preferred delicacies, boiled peanuts. A quart is available for $5. The only in-seat services available are for the boiled peanuts, as a vendor makes the rounds throughout the game.
With a stadium rapidly approaching its 70th birthday and under city ownership, there are no shiny high-definition video boards, luxury suites, or other modern amenities. As such, the focus is a lot more on the baseball here than the external trappings, and it makes for a much more "pure" experience. There are a few between-innings promotions, such as the mascot race and pizza scream.
The team employs four mascots: Blowie (a blowfish), Jester (a mascot for local pizza place Village Idiot Pizza), a purple character who looks like a Nexium ad, and Pockets, a kangaroo representing a local healthcare firm. They all wander the stands at various times and help with promotions. One of the promotions in which they participate is the "Mascot Chase", where they are turned loose on the third base side and chased by kids across the field to the first base side. This was quite amusing to watch.
There are a few silly sound effects (mostly the "breaking glass" sound on a foul ball, as it is sponsored by a local glass company), but the feel in the park is very reminiscent of the minor league atmosphere of old.
There are some train tracks near the park, and the train horn is quite audible when it rolls by. The train adds a unique element to a park that, quite frankly, could be placed anywhere. The team does a great job working with what they have to provide an enjoyable night of entertainment.
The stadium is located just outside the main downtown section of Columbia, and the ballpark property is not loaded with enticing nightlife options. Dining and entertainment are a short drive - or walk - away, however.
The University of South Carolina's campus is nearby, and there are numerous options surrounding the campus. The Liberty Tap Room and Mellow Mushroom Pizza, among others, are a little over a mile away on Gervais Street in the downtown area. Both of these are popular options. Yesterdays Restaurant and Tavern is located on Devine Street in Columbia's popular Five Points section. Also in Five Points is Village Idiot Pizza, who advertises with the club, along with providing the mascot mentioned earlier. Food and drink of every preference are widely available without excessive effort.
There is also something for tourists near the park, as the South Carolina State House is located just off the corner of Gervais and Assembly. This building carries a National Historic Landmark designation, and is the site of many of the Palmetto State's operations. Numerous other state and federal buildings are in the vicinity, as well as the historic buildings on the South Carolina campus. The South Carolina State Fair takes place every October just down Assembly, and Williams-Brice Stadium (home of the South Carolina Gamecocks football team) is blocks away at the corner of Bluff and George Rogers.
Columbia is certainly not hurting for things to do; however, fans certainly seem to turn out for the Blowfish. Though Martinsville took an early lead that the Blowfish never matched, those in attendance seemed to be interested and involved throughout. Fans are apparently very happy with the concessions, as they were constantly walking back and forth on the concourses to the stands. If you are in the first row of the seats, be prepared, as your view will commonly be blocked by fans walking back and forth.
Though this is wood-bat baseball and the entire roster usually turns over each year, the fans are smart and extremely supportive of those wearing the home whites. The South Carolina players get the loudest ovations, as one might imagine, but this is not a passive bunch.
As previously mentioned, the city owns the stadium, so most of the access concerns are not the fault of the team. That said, there are a few issues that should be mentioned.
Parking is $3 and is in a paved lot behind the right field wall. There are enough spaces in the lot to keep parking from ever being a problem, even if the Blowfish sell out a game. The walk to and from the lot is short and should have you in your seat or in your car within a couple of minutes. The trip out of the park is not as effortless, though, as there are two points of exit from the park, and both require left turns to get back to the center of Columbia.
The bathrooms are on the concourse behind the plate and are in fair condition. They are very old, though - the men's room had two troughs on the walls, along with two stalls - and are not for the modest. The same concourse that contains the bathrooms also holds the team's souvenir shop and all of the food and drink concessions, so you will never be far away from your seat. The concourse is a bit narrow, and it runs under the seating bowl. This can leave one feeling a bit closed-in.
Considering the Coastal Plain League is the next step between college and the pros, it really is difficult to beat the price of a night out at Capital City Stadium. Kids, seniors, and military members can get into the park for $5, with general admission seats at $6 and reserved seats at $7. There are virtually no bad seats in the house, except for the first row seats right next to the concourse.
It is also important to note that there is no convenience fee for online ticketing. This is a nice added value, particularly at this level.
Columbia is a military city, and on the night I attended, this was on display on several fronts. Three members of the South Carolina National Guard lost their lives in the line of duty, and the team took the time before the game to mention all three of those Guardsmen by name and have a moment of silence in their honor. Though most in the stadium may not have been directly tied to those three men, it was good to see that the team made this gesture.
The club also honored those who serve after the game. Bill Shanahan, the club's president, came to the field and specifically mentioned each branch of the United States military as their theme played, asking each member who had served or was serving in that branch to stand. Shanahan took the time to personally thank each man and woman for their service as the crowd gave them a round of applause. This meant a lot to me, as I come from a military family, and it obviously meant a lot to those being recognized, as well.
The club also had a "guaranteed win" promotion on the night I visited, and this can be somewhat risky at this level of baseball. Though the Blowfish did not win the game, they handed out free general admission tickets to a future game as fans exited the park. The original game I had planned to attend was rained out, and the club gave me a free movie ticket to go along with admittance to the game I saw.
Though the Blowfish's time in Capital City Stadium will soon come to an end, Columbia baseball looks to be here to stay. With a committed ownership group, a possible new ballpark on the way, and no final blow delivered to the return of affiliated baseball in the so-called Capital of Southern Hospitality, all that may change is the venue.
Capital City Stadium rests on a flood plain and has likely seen its better days, but the club that calls it home certainly knows how to put on a comfortable, family-friendly evening. No matter where the team ends up, it will be fun to see what they can do with a state-of-the-art facility.
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